Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning: An Important Read

Not being a strong swimmer in my youth, I came close to drowning a few times. On two of those occasions, I was in the midst of a group of friends who had no idea I was fighting for my life, because I did it so quietly. Thankfully, twice, my boyfriend noticed just in time, or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing about it. However, not until I came across this article about drowning, did I realize how typical my experience was.

Vittone is a former Coast Guard swimmer who has dedicated his life to preventing catastrophe on the water. In his article, “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning,” a condensed version of which will appear in the August issue of Reader’s Digest, he points out that in 10 percent of all childhood drownings, adults actually witness the event but don’t realize what is happening. This is a shocking statistic, but, given my experience, I don’t doubt the truth of it.

In his explanation, he describes something called the Instinctive Drowning Response, a term coined by Francesco Pia, PhD. According to Pia, while in the process of drowning, a person quickly loses voluntary control of arms and legs, rendering him unable to reach out or move toward something which would save him, and because his respiratory system is totally occupied attempting its first function – breathing- there’s simply no chance for a secondary function such as calling out.

Vittone gives a complete list of possible signs of drowning. Several of them are not things that would be obvious to a casual observer. Given the extraordinarily hot summer we are having, even non swimmers are driven to seek relief at local pools, so I urge everyone to visit his website and equip himself with the knowledge provided there. There’s also a Facebook page which is easy to share with friends.

I don’t know Mr. Vittone, but you can understand why I applaud his efforts and want to spread awareness of his message. I long ago thanked my childhood sweetheart for (twice!) giving me the chance to live long enough to learn to swim well, so I could finish growing up. Because of his alertness way back then, I am here now to enjoy watching my grandchildren frolicking in the pool on this steamy, beautiful summer day in Montclair.

(Photo: Vittone’s website)

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4 COMMENTS

  1. When my 18 year old daughter was a toddler, she tumbled from standing into about 6 inches of lake water. I was at the shore watching as she stayed face down in the water, and after a moment I realized that she didn’t know to get up and grabbed her out. No harm came to her, but I realized how easily and quickly drowning can happen, even when you’re standing right next to the person. Thanks for this reminder, Carla.

  2. I also started drowning in a pool after going down one too many steps at a kids’ party. A responsible 7 year old my age noticed and pulled my arms to the edge. Thanks for drawing attention to this!

  3. Thank you for this wonderful article, that not only includes your personal encounter with this topic, but a place for others to find information that could save their lives or a loved ones. When I was a teenager, I saved two small children from drowning at a Hotel pool, not even the lifeguard noticed their struggle. It does happen fast and is easily unnoticed. It’s such an important topic to write on, especially during these sizzling months.

  4. My Goodness, my family lives in the water in the summertime; in pools, lakes, the ocean, on boats. I never knew about this.I hate to think that someone could drown under my nose and I not know about it or prevent it. Need to share this with everyone I know. Thanks for this article! Its a life-saver!

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